NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

OXNARD, Calif. -- Receiver Dez Bryant needs his quarterback to be as healthy as possible for the regular season.

He doesn't need a lot of practice reps with Tony Romo.

It doesn’t bother Bryant a bit that Romo has missed two of the Cowboys’ five practices so far during training camp. The Cowboys say that Romo is fully recovered from his December surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back, but they are proceeding with caution.

As they enter their fifth season together, Bryant believes he’s developed a rapport with Romo that doesn’t require a lot of practice reps to maintain.

“That’s exactly how we feel,” said Bryant, who caught 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. “It’s mutual. We know each other like the back of our hand, so whenever he gets in, I know what’s up. We’re ready to roll.”

Bryant has been encouraged by what he’s seen during camp from Romo, who didn’t participate in any competitive drills during offseason workouts. The Romo-Bryant connection has been effective and explosive in limited action, highlighted by a handful of big plays downfield.

“He looks good. He looks real good,” Bryant said. “It’s Romo. What the coaches are doing, what the organization is doing, that’s exactly what they need to do. We don’t need him right now. We don’t.”

Cowboys wake-up call: Day 8

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
OXNARD, Calif. -- Every day of Dallas Cowboys training camp we'll offer up a wake-up call that offers a quick review of the previous day and a preview of the current day.

Today's schedule: The Cowboys practice at 6:45 p.m. ET. Jason Garrett will have his press conference at 3 p.m. ET.

Observations from Tuesday's practice:
  • Tyrone Crawford had a good day in one-on-one pass-rush drills. He was able to use his power off the edge against right tackle Doug Free and do it later from inside against guard Zack Martin. In the offense vs. defense matchup before team drills, Crawford was able to beat Free around the corner for a would-be sack and a win for the defense.
  • The first-team offense kicked a game-tying field goal in 2-minute work, but they might have gotten some help from Jason Garrett. It looked like DeMarco Murray was stopped on a third-and-1 rush by Garrett who overruled the officials.
  • Cole Beasley is a tough receiver to defend for quick cornerbacks. He's even more difficult for linebackers. After catching a check down, his quickness surprised rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who was left in space. The same thing happened to safety J.J. Wilcox as he attempted to slow down running back Lance Dunbar. He underestimated Dunbar's speed to the edge and took a poor angle.
What I'm watching: The Cowboys' top two running backs are set in DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar. The question is the third back and the battle is between Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams. There seems to be a little back-and-forth with the coaches in how Randle and Ryan are splitting the work in order for both of them to get quality work.

Not to beat a dead horse, but Tony Romo bears watching as usual. He's coming back from two days off and should be fresh. In his first two days of full-padded workouts Romo has completed 22 of 29 passes in team and seven-on-seven drills with one interception. The offense has been efficient with him running the show.

It's too early to be too concerned, but backup tackles Jermey Parnell and Darrion Weems need to do a better job. Tuesday's work was a little better, but it still needs improvement.

They said it: "The communication part of it is huge. That's the hard part -- not hard -- but one thing about being the backup quarterback you've got to try to sound like the starter. You've got to do everything to kind of emulate him that way so the procedure penalties and stuff like that (don't happen). There's a lot you've got to work on. When you do it with the ones, you're expected to come in there and not miss a beat.” -- Brandon Weeden on taking snaps with the first-team offense in Romo's absence.

Cowboys camp report: Day 7

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
OXNARD, Calif. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Dallas Cowboys training camp:
  • With Tony Romo sitting out of the afternoon workout Brandon Weeden took the first-team full-pad reps for the first time in camp. He completed 13 of 18 passes in team and seven-on-seven drills. In the two-minute drills he directed the offense to a game-tying 41-yard field goal by Dan Bailey at the end of regulation. Weeden completed six of eight passes on the drive, and his best throw might have been one of his incompletions.

    With nine seconds left, Weeden looked in the end zone for Dez Bryant, but Morris Claiborne was in good position.

    “In that situation you have three points,” Weeden said. “We have a great kicker so you can’t turn the ball over. You’ve got a chance to make a play and put it where he can catch it or nobody else ... I knew the DB wasn’t going to catch it. That’s the main thing.”

    Weeden took all of the first-team reps in the spring but noticed a difference in running it with pads on for the first time.

    More than anything it’s in the run game and the pass rush,” Weeden said. “You’re banging. It’s more of a bomb went off back there. That’s what a game will be like ... With the pads on it’s easier to do that stuff. Without pads, you can’t really do a lot of that stuff we’re trying to do now. It was good. It feels like real football.”
  • The hit of the day might have belonged to rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens in one-on-one pass rush drills with running backs. Hitchens flattened Joseph Randle in the drill and immediately had fellow linebacker Justin Durant jumping on his back in celebration. To Randle’s credit, he responded in his next two reps, including a good standstill with Orie Lemon. All of the running backs not named DeMarco Murray struggled in the pass-protection drill. When coach Jason Garrett had Murray go up against Bruce Carter in the daily offense vs. defense matchup, Murray won the matchup.
  • Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan is considered a very technical coach. During individual drills, the offensive line worked on the proper way to throw a forearm shiver as they moved up on combination blocks. Callahan explained that the move has to be short and quick and the lineman cannot wind up or get his arm outside the framework of his body. The work paid off later in running drills with some good combination blocks from the line.
  • Caleb Hanie had his first extended work of camp with Romo sitting, moving up to the second team. He was late on a throw to tight end James Hanna, who beat linebacker DeVonte Holloman, allowing Holloman the chance to recover and make the pass deflection. He was short on a deep throw to Jamar Newsome that gave Tyler Patmon the ability to make the break up.
  • After DeMarcus Lawrence went down with an ankle/foot injury, Martez Wilson seemed to kick in. Wilson had two sakcs in team drills (one of Hanie, one of Dustin Vaughan). He also added a pressure of Vaughan.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 6 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

1. Matt Johnson is never going to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

He has yet another hamstring injury -- this is three training camps in a row -- and he’s expected to miss at least a week. That said, who among us will be shocked if he misses more than that.

The Cowboys have liked Johnson’s potential so much that they’ve kept him on the roster, even though the former fourth-round pick has never appeared in a game in his first two seasons.

He’s been good in practice, according to coaches and teammates, but will that be enough?

It’s hard to believe they would keep him for another year, which means paying him for a third year, if he can’t stay healthy and compete for a job. The competition at safety is taut. Every day he misses diminishes his slim odds of making the team.

2. Sean Lee is the kind of player you hope has success because he’s the epitome of what coaches want in a player and what players want in a teammate.

Yes, he’s been hurt frequently. Too frequently. And the reality is the Cowboys can’t really depend on him because he hasn’t shown an ability to stay on the field.

But his injuries are the result of bad luck -- not poor conditioning or training -- and you can tell he’s miserable about the missed time. He doesn’t have to be at training camp.

He could be rehabbing in Dallas, but he wants to be around his teammates. He’s sitting in on meetings and film sessions. He’s doing everything the other linebackers are doing except playing.

Not many other players would do that.

3. Henry Melton's knee is essentially fine from a structural perspective. Any athlete who’s had a knee injury will tell you the most difficult part of recovery is trusting the knee again.

That’s why the preseason games will be so important to Melton, especially as an interior lineman. He must get used to players falling on his legs or banging into them.

He must get used to the game’s physicality, and he must become adept again at maintaining his balance and staying on his feet when guys around him are falling down.

When he does -- no matter how long it takes -- that’s when he’ll return to being a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive tackle.

Key Number: 71

The Cowboys gave up 71 pass plays of 20 yards or more last season. No team allowed more.

Super Bowl champion Seattle allowed 30. The 12 playoff teams yielded an average of 51.

The Cowboys have no chance to win if they don’t stop the big plays. It makes it too easy for the offense. Improved safety play will help, but the Cowboys must figure out how to rush the passer and remove quarterbacks from their comfort zone.

Player to Watch: Cole Beasley

This is the first time Cole Beasley has ever entered training camp with outside expectations.

He seems ready to meet them.

He caught 39 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns last season. More important, he earned Tony Romo's trust.

On third down, he caught 14 of the 18 passes directed toward him for 146 yards, 11 first downs and a touchdown. When the Cowboys use Beasley in the slot on third downs along with Jason Witten at tight end, it gives Romo a pair of players with good hands who can work underneath and make first downs.

Beasley played only 247 snaps last year. Miles Austin, who had 541 snaps, is gone. Look for Beasley to gobble up a bunch of Austin’s playing time, which means he could easily catch 60 passes this season.
OXNARD, Calif. -- A hamstring injury will keep Dallas Cowboys safety Matt Johnson out for at least a week if not more in training camp, continuing a trend that started soon after he was drafted in 2012.

Johnson suffered the injury in a pursuit drill in Sunday's practice, ending his day. It is the same leg he injured in the spring during organized team activities that kept him off the field. He missed most of his rookie season with recurring hamstring injuries and did not play last season because of foot surgery.

"Yesterday I was talking to my brother and stuff and I had a pity party, and you can't do that because it's not going to solve anything," Johnson said. But I just don't know. I've done everything I could -- stayed late, get here early, rehab it. I've done more in the month off that we had from the summer than I ever have in my life. Not as far as overworking it but as far as trying to get it ready. The conditioning test, felt fine. The first couple three days, felt good. I felt really good warming up I was like, 'You know what I'm going to give it all I had,' and ... it wasn't anything bad, but it's just frustrating knowing you can't got 100 percent and in the NFL you have to go 100 percent."

Johnson had an MRI on Sunday that revealed a strain. Coach Jason Garrett said defensive tackle Terrell McClain (ankle) could miss a week or so. Darius Morris (hamstring), Will Smith (groin) and Ben Gardner (shoulder) did not take part in the walkthrough. Executive vice president Stephen Jones said he hoped Gardner could practice in the afternoon.
OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys have seen glimpses of his talent during defensive tackle Henry Melton's first two full-contact practices, but he's far from Pro Bowl form.

That's to be expected from a player coming off a torn ACL, which Melton suffered in September of last season with the Chicago Bears. But the coaches aren't making any excuses for Melton.

In fact, head coach Jason Garrett made a point to publicly challenge Melton during Tuesday afternoon's press conference, noting that he'd been dominated by center Travis Frederick in a pass-rush drill Sunday.

"I think he is getting his feet underneath him, getting stronger, and as much as anything else when you've had an injury like this, it's the confidence to be able to do naturally what you have done your whole life," Garrett said. "He's getting to that point. We had a good 1-on-1 pass rush between Travis Frederick and him the other day and Travis won handily. I think knowing what I know about Henry Melton from afar, he is going to respond the right way."

The Cowboys are encouraged by Melton's progress in his return from the knee injury. There have been flashes of the quickness and explosiveness that helped Melton, who started his college career at Texas as a tailback, earn a Pro Bowl bid while playing for Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli in 2012.

Garrett said Melton looks good in non-contact individual drills but must work on his "contact balance," which is to be expected for a player coming off a major knee injury.

"It feels good," Melton said. "I was testing it out obviously the first day. I haven't been in pads since late September last year. It was good to kick the rust off. I've got a long way to go, but we're just going to keep working."
OXNARD, Calif. – All of the backup tight end talk around the Dallas Cowboys has centered around Gavin Escobar. After all, Escobar was a second-round pick last year and the Cowboys added a new tight ends coach in Mike Pope to develop Escobar.

But what about the guy who was the backup tight end last season, James Hanna? He started eight of 16 games. He caught more passes than Escobar (12 to nine).

“He’s in it,” coach Jason Garrett said of the tight end mix. “He’s battling for a role just like he did last year. For a lot of last year he kind of held Escobar off and played a lot of snaps for us. He’s a good football player. He can run, and I think both he and Escobar are getting better at ‘My hand is on the ground, physical, Y-type blocking.’ Coach Pope will really help guys in that regard. He’s in the mix. He’s someone we have a lot of confidence in.”

Hanna is on his third position coach in his three years in the league, going from John Garrett to Wes Phillips to now Pope. The teachings of the three are more different than Hanna imagined, from footwork to hand placement in blocking.

“Every coach is a lot different,” Hanna said. “They want us to do things differently, so I’ve got to adjust to that, but it’s still the same game.”

When he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, the Cowboys raved about his speed. Except for one game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (two catches, 45 yards) the Cowboys have not put him in position to use his speed. He has improved as a blocker, however, and has taken some first-team snaps in the running game when the Cowboys use two tight ends.

He has also developed into a valuable special-teams member.

“My view of it is I want it to be so that they have to play me, and hopefully Rich [Bisaccia] feels like he needs me because I can play on special teams,” Hanna said. “Hopefully I get my shots on offense, too.”

Dallas Cowboys hope youth serves

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
OXNARD, Calif. -- These are not your father’s Dallas Cowboys.

And we’re not talking about the glory years set forth by Tom Landry, Roger Staubach and so many others and added to by Jimmy Johnson and the Triplets. We’re talking these aren’t your 2010 Cowboys, who preceded this three-year run of nothing but 8-8.

Of the 90 players on the current roster, only eight remain from when Jason Garrett took over from Wade Phillips: Tony Romo, Jason Witten, L.P. LaDouceur, Anthony Spencer, Doug Free, Orlando Scandrick, Dez Bryant and Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Lawrence
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsRookie DeMarcus Lawrence was 11 years old when Tony Romo and Jason Witten were rookies in 2003.
But dig deeper. The Cowboys have undergone a youth movement. Forty-six of the 90 players are in their first camp with the Cowboys. Only nine players are 30 or older. Forty-two were born in 1990 or later.

More than once in camp Garrett has said the Cowboys have gone from one of the oldest teams in the league to one of the youngest over the past few years.

There can be good from coaching youth: they don’t have poor habits, they don’t suffer as many injuries. There can be bad from coaching youth: they don’t have the experience, and most of the time the knowhow, required to win at a high level.

“You have to be mindful of their experience and what they can handle, and you do that all the time with individual players, and the more individual players who are younger that you have, you might have to do that from a system basis as well,” Garrett said. “We’re mindful of that. It’s not the same playbook every year -- ‘Hey, here we go. This is what we’ve been doing forever. I’m handing down the 10 Commandments, the tablets from Mt. Sinai -- that’s not how it works. We have to understand our philosophy, our system of football and offense, defense and the kicking game. We also have to understand the 90 guys we have on our roster and what works best for them and how we can put them in the best light to be the best unit we can be.”

Though the Cowboys will not be offering remedial lessons on their playbook, the defensive scheme will be cut back in order for them to play fast. Jeremy Mincey could be the oldest defensive starter at 31. The next oldest starter would be cornerback Brandon Carr, 28.

“We had a lot of guys on our football team the last couple of years who didn’t practice during the week getting ready for a game, because they were dealing with injuries and they happened to be older guys,” Garrett said. “So it’s always been a younger man’s league. We’ve made that transition and we’re going to give some younger guys a chance to compete.”

In previous camps Garrett would be mindful of the legs of older players like DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Miles Austin, giving them “vet” days. Now the “vet” days will be fewer and might be far between.

DeMarcus Lawrence was 11 when Tony Romo and Jason Witten were rookies.

For Witten, the influx of youth could help in 2014 because most of the younger faces have not experienced the disappointment of not only the past three seasons, but the past six or seven.

“The urgency that you talk about and you want to play with, you’ve got to show that,” Witten said. “That’s what excites me every day is the leadership of this team. Our best players work the hardest and kind of set the tempo and the stage of what we want to be about. A lot of young players and obviously talented, and they’re going to help our football team (but) we’ve got to show them the way. And I think they’ll be huge assets for us.”
OXNARD, Calif. -- Dez Bryant has yet to hit his prime, so he playfully protests when asked about being the old head among the Dallas Cowboys' receivers.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/Gus RuelasReceiver Dez Bryant, a first-round pick in 2010, relishes his role as one of the Cowboys' veterans.
"I'm not the old guy!" Bryant said with a kid's goofy grin.

OK, Bryant is a little more than a year younger than Dwayne Harris. However, in terms of NFL experience, Bryant suddenly finds himself as the senior member of the receiving corps as he enters his fifth NFL season at the ripe old age of 25.

The leadership role rests firmly on Bryant's shoulders after the Cowboys cut Miles Austin during the offseason. Truthfully, Bryant has transitioned into that role over the past year due to his ability as much as his experience. It's only natural for young players, such as second-year receiver Terrance Williams or rookie Devin Street, to look to an elite talent to set the tone.

"There's a greater responsibility when you're the best player in the room," receivers coach Derek Dooley said. "People generally look up to guys that have been to Pro Bowls and made these great plays. You can either be an example in a positive way or be an example in a negative way.

"I'm really blessed to have a guy like Dez because he has an incredible work ethic on the field and an incredible desire to get better in his trade. All that does is spill down to the rest of the guys."

All old jokes aside, Bryant takes his responsibility as a leader among the receivers seriously. He helped build a brotherhood-like bond by frequently organizing offseason group dinners, when the receivers would typically shoot the bull until the restaurant closed and Bryant refused to let anyone else pay the bill.

Bryant radiates positivity, often going out of his way to praise the other receivers, publicly and privately. He carefully picks his spots to offer constructive criticism, too.

"He just doesn't talk just to talk," Williams said. "The times he does say something, people listen because it's something that can help us all out. The times he's coaching me, he's coaching the whole group. We all pay attention to the stuff he says, because when he talks, he means it."

More than anything, Bryant sets a tone with his approach to the game. He's attentive and engaged in the meeting room, a far cry from the kid who used to be frequently tardy and struggle to focus in film sessions. Bryant has always epitomized passion on the practice field.

"Dez sets the tone every day at practice," No. 3 receiver Cole Beasley said. "He just has so much fire in him. It pumps all of our receivers up and makes us want to work. That's what he does every day. He comes out here and works hard and pushes us to be better because he's such a freak."

Added Williams: "When you have somebody like that, you don't want to let that guy down."
OXNARD, Calif. -- Dez Bryant caught 11 balls out of the slot last season, which is nine more than he caught in 2012.

The Cowboys want him to catch a lot more from the slot this season.

 The Cowboys can finally expand Bryant's package of plays because they can move him around the formation and put him in the slot, where he doesn't have to deal with bump-and-run coverage.

Jason Garrett said the Cowboys would've liked to have done it in other years, but Bryant wasn't ready. His grasp of all the different positions wasn't good enough.

Now, it is.

There's a significant difference between playing outside receiver and one who is in the slot.

"He's grown as an inside receiver," Garrett said. "The trait and the qualities are different. I've been around a lot of outside receivers who looked like a fish out of water when they moved inside.

"If you picture an X receiver in right formation, there's no one outside of you. You're typically working against a corner by yourself or there's a safety rotating over the top. When you're inside, you have people inside of you and outside of you. You have a linebacker walked out, you have a safety coming down, and you have to have a feel for how to run the routes because there's a lot going on.

"It has a lot to do with your feel as an athlete -- your vision, your instincts and your experience. You have to get in there and do it."
OXNARD, Calif. -- Defensive end George Selvie started every game last season, but he's still the same guy who spent the first few days of training camp hoping his phone would ring.

The Dallas Cowboys, desperate for bodies after a rash of injuries to the defensive line early in last year's camp, finally called Selvie. He signed a two-year, minimum-salary deal with nothing guaranteed but a plane ticket to Southern California.

Selvie, who had three sacks and played for three teams in the first three years of his career, showed up to Oxnard believing that this could be his last opportunity to stick in the NFL. He made the most of it, recording seven sacks last season and returning to Oxnard as the starter.

Yet Selvie still feels like he has to compete for a roster spot.

"A lot has changed, but I've got to move forward and go with what I've got now," Selvie said. "I'm very blessed to be in the position that I am in right now. I'm just moving forward and trying to get better.

"I'm not a big-time guy. I'm not getting paid a lot of money. Even those guys are fighting to stay on the roster. If they don't perform, you can get cut. I'm definitely out here trying to get better and trying to fight for a job."

Selvie is fired up about the perception that the defensive line is Dallas' weakest link. He was reminded of that the other night as he watched television with some of his linemates. They were excited to see their pictures flash across the screen, only to then see the words "Biggest Question Mark in the League."

Selvie wants to prove that perception wrong. He wants to prove his performance last season wasn't a fluke. He wants to prove again that he belongs in NFL.

"People still don't give me credit for last year," Selvie said. "But that comes with the territory. I was a no-name guy. I came off the couch. I've just got to go out there and prove myself again. That's what football is all about. Year after year, you've got to come out there and prove yourself."
OXNARD, Calif. -- Left tackle Tyron Smith benefited tremendously from his daily battles with DeMarcus Ware, the best pass-rusher in Dallas Cowboys’ history, during the past few training camps.

It wasn't just the reps against Ware that helped prepare Smith to fulfill his Pro Bowl potential. Ware often worked with Smith after practices, offering tips on footwork and hand placement from an edge rusher’s perspective.

The Cowboys would love to see Smith form a similar competitive mentor relationship with rookie pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, the second-round pick drafted to replace Ware.

"One of the most underutilized resources in football are offensive guys talking to defensive guys and defensive guys talking to offensive guys," head coach Jason Garrett said. "That's with coaches and that's with players. I think it's important to understand the other person's mindset, what they're trying to get accomplished, both with scheme and technique. So any kind of communication that happens between those guys I think is really, really good, particularly with the younger players."

Smith typically isn't a man of many words, but he said, "I'll try my best to teach the new guy."

The Smith-Lawrence competition has gotten off to a slow start. One of the most highly anticipated one-on-one matchups in camp has been seen a grand total of once in the first two full-pads practices.

Lawrence is working with the second-team defense now, so veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey is the one matched up with Smith on a regular basis. Lawrence has been dominating backup left tackle Darrion Weems, but he got stonewalled on his one pass-rush rep against Smith.

Lawrence, who has set a goal of double-digit sacks as a rookie, eagerly anticipates more action against arguably the NFL's best left tackle.

"I look forward to it because he ain't doing nothing but getting me better," Lawrence said. "If I go against the best, then I know what to expect."

Garrett shot down a theory that the Cowboys are trying to build Lawrence's confidence by letting him compete against lesser tackles. It sounds as if Lawrence will see plenty of Smith.

"It's not like we're saying, 'OK, you're in eighth grade and you're going to go against this guy who is playing college football,'" Garrett said. "These are the kinds of guys he's going to face in this league and he has to understand the approach he needs to take. He's going to have some success at times and he's going to have some difficulties at times, but he's just got to keep going, keep playing."

There's no better way for a young player to learn than by facing elite competition in practice. Smith's success serves as proof.
OXNARD, Calif. -- First-round pick Zack Martin had a welcome-to-the-NFL moment on the first full-speed practice rep of his NFL career.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton exploded past the rookie right guard in the one-on-one pass-rush drill. In the blink of an eye, Melton got Martin to lean a little to his right, changed directions and ripped through with his hands to win the rep about as convincingly as possible.

"I just had to let him know that I'm here and it's going to be a long training camp," Melton said.

Martin has made it clear that he's ready for it. That first rep is the only time Martin has looked like a rookie during his first two days wearing pads with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys were confident that Martin, who set the Notre Dame record for games started with 52, could make an immediate impact when they drafted him with the 16th overall pick. He has done nothing to dispel that notion during his first couple of full-contact practices.

"I know there's a lot of expectations," Martin said. "Like I said in the past, I'm just trying to be consistent and show these guys that I can show up every day."

A couple of defensive assistant coaches offered high praise for Martin, saying he carries himself like a veteran on the practice field. He's held his own against Melton, a 2012 Pro Bowler, and has often dominated other defensive tackles.

"He's good," Melton said. "I purposely line myself up with him. He's coming on strong. If I'm working with him, he's making me better and I'm making him better. There's no one else better to work with."
OXNARD, Calif. -- Trying to figure out the truth from Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones can be difficult.

Take Johnny Manziel for example.

Speaking on NFL Network during Sunday’s practice, Jones talked about just how close the Cowboys were to taking Johnny Football with the 16th pick of the first round in the May draft.

“Well first of all, I feel so strongly about Tony Romo,” Jones said. “That Tony Romo could have handled being on the same team with Johnny Manziel -- both quarterbacks. He could have handled that in spades. I thought, ‘Jerry make the same kind of decision that you made when you bought the Dallas Cowboys.’ Nobody thought it would work. They were busted. Cowboys were busted. Broke. Nobody thought it would work. Make a more of an unconventional decision here and basically take the risk. And I want you to know that almost as I was handing in the card, it was that close to put that Manziel card in, it was that close. And I looked over at my son Stephen, our oldest son is the chief executive officer, and I said, ‘I took the right pick.’ If I had made this kind of pick when I bought the Cowboys, I’d never have bought the team. That’s not how you get there.”

Speaking at a function in June in Arkansas honoring Jones’ former coach, Frank Broyles, Jones had this to say about how difficult it was to pass on Manziel:

"Well, it was,” Jones said. “Yes, it was. First of all, I couldn't believe he had fallen there. And secondly, we had spent a lot of time, I'd spent a lot of time. He's the kind of player that can be that kind of difference-maker. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be a successful player. We have in Romo what I consider to be the better quarterback. But there's also the future, there's also insurance if you don't have him. If anybody could have adjusted to Manziel's style, we could have because we're a lot like that with Romo.”

And finally let’s revisit what Jones said at a news conference on draft night after the Cowboys took Zack Martin in the first round .

“As you well know in here, Romo, by contract as well as by commitment, is certainly the quarterback for the Cowboys for several years to come,” Jones said. “There is no moving around that. I don’t care who you draft, that’s the way it would have been. That was going through our minds from the get-go. That’s why we didn’t spend a lot of time at all in this draft considering Manziel.”

The next time Jones is asked about Manziel he just might say the Cowboys had his name on a card ready to turn in to the commissioner.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Throughout the offseason, Dallas Cowboys teammates, coaches and staff noticed a difference in Morris Claiborne.

On the first day of full-padded practices Saturday, Claiborne showed part of that difference for everybody else to see.

On his first snap of one-on-one drills against wide receiver Terrance Williams, he fought, clawed and talked back. On the second he pushed Williams to the ground, yelling, "Get Dez over here," which prompted some more talking with a perturbed Williams.

Later Claiborne was beat by Bryant on one deep ball, but he broke up a comeback to Bryant and a deep ball to Devin Street before cramps knocked him out of the final team session.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports"A lot of things happened in my life that you had to face and had to make changes," Morris Claiborne said. "For that, I feel like I'm a better person from it even though it might've hurt at the time."
“I’ve got a different approach just from football, from life period,” Claiborne said. “A lot of things happened in my life that you had to face and had to make changes. For that, I feel like I’m a better person from it even though it might’ve hurt at the time. I feel like I’m a better man after it and it’s carried over to football.”

In a span of only a few days last December he experienced the birth of his daughter, Madison, and the death of his father, Robert Owens. He alternated from joy with the birth of his second child to sorrow over the death of his father, who was 64.

He could not go to his escape on the football field because he was dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of six games last season. He used the word “funk” to describe what was happening.

“Life,” he said. “Not being able to play football because you’re injured. You got people saying this and people saying that, so now you’ve got so much pressure and you can feel it from coaches and players. You can feel that pressure and all of a sudden to go back and have somebody close to you taken away from you and you’ve got to deal with that too. It’s hard. Your family has changed so now you’re the head man in charge and everybody is looking at you now because the head man pretty much died. Then you have a baby. I couldn’t hide from it.”

Time has helped, and, in his mind, he speaks regularly to his father.

"Anybody can feel different, but that’s my belief,” Claiborne said of his conversations. “That’s my feelings.”

He also keeps a tangible part of his father with him -- a rubber Cowboys bracelet. Owens got the bracelet when his son was picked in the first round of the 2012 draft. The Cowboys moved up to the sixth pick to get Claiborne, whom they called their highest-rated defensive back since Deion Sanders.

Claiborne’s first two seasons have not gone the way he wanted, the way the Cowboys wanted or the way the fans wanted. It's not what any of them expected. He intercepted just two passes in his first two seasons. He battled through wrist, shoulder, knee and hamstring injuries. He missed a game with a concussion and busted lip as a rookie.

The confident player who roamed the LSU secondary was replaced by someone unsure of himself.

“I don’t need to really remind him or anyone the commitment we made and the commitment he made,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “He’s got a lot of pride. He’s certainly got some things you can point to the last couple of years. But if he can get out here and be the player, he has the skill level ... [He has to] work through just this kind of thing [in practice], have good things happen, get tired, have things go against him a couple of plays, if he can work through that, he’ll be an improved player and be the guy we want to have out there.”

At the first team meeting of camp, coach Jason Garrett highlighted Claiborne’s work in individual drills to the rest of the team.

“His approach mentally has been outstanding and I think it’s going to reflect in his play,” Garrett said.

One practice does not reflect a complete change, and Claiborne knows it. It’s about doing his job every day, which is something he learned from his father.

“I feel like I have something to prove to myself,” Claiborne said. “It starts with myself. I have to prove it to myself. I’m very comfortable where I’m at now.”